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A Trick of the Light (Chief Inspector Gamache #7) by Louis Penny

UnknownSummary: Clara is finally getting her art show, but someone is murdered at the party.

Series fiction is a tricky thing. Veer too far from what made the stories popular and fans will complain. Stick with what made the series popular too closely and even the fans will get bored.

So Louise Penny has been wise to approximately every other book move the crime away from Three Pines while still keeping the character development and the threaded storyline that runs through the series going.

A Trick of the Light returns the story to Three Pines. Clara, the most important of the Three Pines characters to the series is finally getting her first real gallery show to showcase her art. Nearly 50 years old, she has worked in obscurity on the edge of the art world and thought of as a lesser artist in comparison to her husband Peter. But the series has always understood that Clara is the better artist, just not recognized.

A Better Man by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Gamache #15)

A Better Man by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Gamache #15)Setup: After his suspension, Gamache returns to head up homicide, overlapping briefly with Jean-Guy Beauvoir before Beauvoir leaves the Sûreté to take a job in Paris. 

A Better Man is the fifteenth book in a remarkably consistent mystery series. It is a rare series that keeps me engaged over 15 books. I cannot think of another series I have read this far in since I was a teen.

That being said, the beginning I was ready almost to give up. It is hard to move on from the last several books. They have been so big, so consuming in scope that I think it was hard to reset this book to mostly be about a single missing person/murder.

One of the problems of mystery series like this one is that they are not only about the mysteries. If the books are only about the mystery, then it doesn’t matter what the characters are doing, their personal lives, their growth or decline, their trauma or success. However, a series like this, which is more about the ongoing characters than the particulars of the particular murder have to deal with characters, which have arcs and climaxes and depths.

The Chief Inspector Gamache series has had a remarkable number of story arcs and continued. What worked in this particular book is the ongoing reflection on what it means to serve the greater good. The several previous books Gamache was the head of the whole police force and as such had an enormous amount of power, which he used to fight corruption, organized crime and the poor uses of power by other officials. But to do so, Gamache had to use methods that were themselves abuses of power. Gamache made those choices because he trusted his integrity, but Gamache in this book is somewhat humbled. Others are attempting to use their power for the greater good, but not every theoretical greater good is an actual greater good.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Gamache #14)

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Gamache #14)

Summary: Gamache, Myrna and a guy neither of them knows, are called to be executors of a will for someone that none of them knows. 

I am a huge fan of Louise Penny’s Gamache novels. Not all of them are perfect, but 14 books in, three of the five best books in the series are the most recent three books. That is impressive.

Part of what I like about the Gamache books is that they are about things. There is a mystery, The plot revolves around the mystery. But there is more to the books than just the mystery. There are ongoing characters. Those characters are smart, thoughtful, morally complex, flawed and generally likable.

The main theme moral question for the past several books has been around the idea of when it is acceptable to do morally and ethically questionable things, for a greater good. This is spoiler-y if you have not read the previous books, but in the last book, Gamache let drugs into the country so that he could lure in the higher up in the drug organizations and shut them down. He wanted to deal a fatal blow to the whole drug infrastructure. But in the process more drugs came into the country and some communities were harmed. Because of his unauthorized operation (because he was at the same time still smoking out dirty cops and politicians), he was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation.

The Hangman by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Gamache #6.5)

The Hangman by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Gamache #6.5)Summary: A novella in the middle of the series.

Louise Penny was asked to write this novella by ABC Life Literacy Canada. It was intentionally written with an easy to read vocabulary and structure but with similar themes for adults and older teens that have difficulty reading.

This type of book is so important. There are many adults that for a variety of reasons do not have high level reading skills. But most of the books that are in the range of their reading level are thematically oriented toward children or teens. While I am glad that many adults are returning to read Young Adult or Children’s books, many adults do not want to only read children’s or YA books.

What I was most struck by while reading The Hangman was that it didn’t feel like a simplified book. Penny was able to construct a novella that while it isn’t as complex as her longer books in structure, it didn’t feel like she was reducing the book to something lesser than what she normally writes.

This is a novella, so I finished it quickly. But it was worth reading. It did not really add anything to the broader story, but at the same time you do not really need to know the rest of the series to pick it up.

Glass Houses by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Gamache #13)

Glass Houses by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Gamache #13)Summary: Gamache, now head of the Sûreté du Québec gambles.

The Chief Inspector Gamache series has been consistently the best mystery series I have read. It is rare series, 13 books in, that still keeps me engaged. And I think the last two books, while a bit unbelievable as mysteries, are probably the best two books of the series.

Armond Gamache has been a career homicide detective. The past several books he has been in an out of the Sûreté. Two books ago he took down the corrupt head of the Sûreté. The last book he was the head of the training academy where he again rooted out corruption. Now he is the head of the whole Sûreté and he turns his attention to the drug trade.

What I have loved about the series is the characters. I am not particularly interesting in the actual mysteries except as a means to see the characters. Penny falls into the common mystery series trap of thinking that she needs to make each successive crime bigger to keep the attention of the reader. (I think this is a false trap. Crimes do not need to be bigger, but the growth of the characters needs to be bigger.)

While I am not particularly interested massive governmental corruption or international terrorism plots or organized crime, I am interested in how those challenges impact Gamache. One of his faults is keeping the responsibility and information too close to his vest. This is a book where he is forced to plan with others a little bit. But because of previous corruption he keeps that circle very small.

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Gamache #12)

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny (Chief Inspector Gamache #12) book reviewSummary: Stepping out of retirement, former Chief Inspector Gamache, has agreed to take over Surete (Quebec police) academy. 

A Great Reckoning is not a novel that you want to pickup if you are new to the series.  You could read it and I think enjoy it. But there is a lot of assumed back story. Gamache and his wife are retired in the small village of Three Pines. But Gamache still feels to pull to continue to root out the corruption inside the police force from the previous several books.

I really like this series and this is one of the best books in the series. It is not without its faults. The corruption angle I think has been problematic from the start. It is too big and too small at the same time. There is a timeline issue with one of the big reveals that just doesn’t make sense to me (the age of one of the characters and the secret relationship to Gamache’s history doesn’t really work.) But if you set aside the questionable reality of the police corruption and personal vendetta angles and just read them as a story, it rolls out nicely.

Gamache feels like the only way to solve the problem of the academy is to fire most of the bad teachers, but keep the one he thinks is the ringleader and then bring back the privately disgraced, but not incarcerated, former head of the Surete as one of the staff. He hopes he can use them to root one another’s corruption while keeping them under control.

The Nature of the Beast: Chief Inspector Gamache #11 by Louise Penny

Summary: A retired Inspector Gamache continues to need to respond to the deaths around him in Three Pines.

Popular murder mystery series always have the problem of very high rates of murder around the protagonist. It is one reason that they tend to be police officers of big cities in order to give some credibility to the number of murders.

But in the Inspector Gamache series, the protagonist has retired to a town that is so small that it is not even on any map, has a dirt road to get into it and no high speed internet access. About half of the books so far have been focused on local murders and the reader just has to wonder about the character of the town. In this book we find that the village has expanded to become large enough that it has a community theater with a dedicated theater space.

My strained credibility still enjoys the series. Gamache is a great lead and there are many characters around him that are just as enagaging.

In this case a young imaginative boy who is known for his wild tales goes missing and his body is eventually found. This leads to a case that gets bigger and bigger and eventually includes international affairs and weapons deals and a serial killer as a side theme.

How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Gamache #9) by Louise Penny

How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Gamache #9) by Louise Penny

Summary: The threat running through most of this series comes to a head.

The Inspector Gamache series is a traditional murder mystery series. Every book, Chief Homicide inspector Gamache and his team respond to a murder and attempt to solve it.

But through most of the series there is a subplot about corruption within the police force. Gamache is against the corruption, but the bureaucracy is infused with it and that corruption wants Gamache out.

Gamache’s number two, a man Gamache thinks of as friend and son more than anything else, has turned against Gamache fully. Beauvoir, addicted to pain killers, and being psychologically bullied by other officers to turn against Gamache. Those against Gamache, whoever they ultimately are, are hoping that this final straw will push Gamache out.

The central murder of the book is based on a real story. (This is based on the Wikipedia entry). In 1934 there were naturally born Quintuplets born to a poor farm family in Canada. The girls were removed from their family by the state and essentially put on display for tourists to visit. Approximately 3 million visitors came to see them between 1936 and 1943 and they were the largest tourist attraction in Ontario, including Niagara Falls. Two of the sisters are still alive.

The Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Gamache #8) by Louise Penny

Summary: A previously hidden order of monks calls on Gamache when their Prior is murdered.

Louise Penny has frequently hinted at religious issues in the previous books. But with Beautiful Mystery, set in a monastery, religious thoughts are on full display.

Penny is playing with the recent popularity of Gregorian Chant. In her fictional world, the rise of interest about Gregorian Chant is the responsibility of a previously hidden order of monks from rural Canada.

This order was among the earliest settlers of Quebec to escape potential investigation by the Inquisition. And once established, they fell off the radar of the church and intentionally hid.

Bury Your Dead (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #6) by Louise Penny

Summary: Gamache and Beauvoir are both recovering after serious emotional and physical injury after a mission gone wrong.

The first five book of this series I found on Scribd. The next three books I found at my library. The seventh book came before the sixth, but I was only five pages in before a significant spoiler from book six was reveled. I immediately put down the book and waited for Bury Your Dead to come up. (I really hate reading books out of order.)

Bury Your Dead is told both alternating in forward time between Gamache and Beauvoir and in flashback. It isn’t until close to the end of the book that we get the full story of what happened in a mission gone wrong prior to the book’s opening.

At the start of the book Gamache is in Quebec City with his retired mentor recovering. And because Gabri sends Gamache a letter every day about Olivier’s innocence (see book 5), Gamache asks Beauvoir to go to Three Pines and unofficially open the case back up to see if there is soemthing they missed.